February 11, 2006 10:46 AM PST
Fossett breaks flight record
The generator of Fossett's Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer failed just miles from his destination of Kent International Airport, which meant a total electrical breakdown, according to the GlobalFlyer Web site.
Fossett, 61, the American millionaire adventurer who made history last year with the first solo nonstop flight around the world, set this record by traveling 26,389.3 miles and was in flight for 76 hours 45 minutes before landing at about 5 p.m. Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).
He surpassed his goal of covering 26,160 miles in about 80 hours. The prior record was 25,361 miles, set in 1999 by the Breitling Orbiter balloon. By comparison, Fossett's round-the-world flight in March 2005 covered just less than 23,000 miles.
The specially designed ultralight GlobalFlyer--with a wingspan as wide as an 11-story building is tall--lifted off Wednesday morning from the 15,000-foot space shuttle landing runway at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Fossett flew a full trip eastward around the world before crossing the Atlantic a second time on the last leg. He took the plane to an altitude of about 45,000 feet to take advantage of the high-speed jetstream flowing west to east over the Northern Hemisphere.
The veteran aviator was forced to make an emergency Mayday call through to Bournemouth International Airport and was given a short landing window.
"If we didn't get him down in fifteen minutes, he would have had to have ditched the plane," Virgin Atlantic Chief Executive Steve Ridgeway said, according the Global Flyer site.
The generator failure occurred just after his billionaire friend and sponsor Richard Branson had called Fossett to congratulate him on his record, which he broke when be flew over Shannon, Ireland, the site said.
"On landing, Steve burst two tires, and his windscreen was iced up so much that he couldn't see even meters in front of him," according to the site. "Not only all that, but he had only 200 pounds of fuel left, which, if he had continued, may well have turned into another emergency!"
"We told him he had to land alive," said Branson, who flew behind Fossett in a chase plane on the final leg. "He actually had to land alive, because if he didn't land alive he wouldn't get the record."
In addition to the generator problem, GlobalFlyer's ventilation system malfunctioned midway through the trip, causing temperatures in the 7-foot cockpit to rise as much as 130 degrees. He also contended with severe turbulence over India.
After a medical check-up, Fossett flew from Bournemouth to Kent, arriving at about 6:30 p.m. GMT in his private jet with Branson.
After nearly four days existing on nothing but milkshakes, Fossett toasted his achievement with champagne. Asked what he would do next, he said simply: "Catch up on some sleep."
Reuters contributed to this report.
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